Meridian Star

November 1, 2012

Questions raised about PAC money

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Although judicial elections in Mississippi are non-partisan, that is not to say there is no debate over qualifications and interests.

    Candidates vying for Mississippi Supreme Court in the state's Central District, which includes Lauderdale County, are on the campaign trail as election day draws nearer.

    Earle S. Banks, an attorney from Jackson, was in Meridian recently to meet with supporters and the press.

    Banks said he is running for the seat held by Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. because he was asked to enter the election by people who were concerned about certain campaign contributions to Waller.

    "We're looking to be fair and impartial on the court. At this point in time, I don't see the court as being fair and impartial," Banks said. "I see too much, quote — unquote — monetary influence on the court or the appearance of it."

    The issue, Banks said, is that Waller's campaign has accepted contributions from a number of political action committees and from 52 donors who have cases pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court.

    "We understand that Pfizer, for example, is listed on his official campaign invitations and that Pfizer has three cases pending now, before the Mississippi Supreme Court," Banks said. "That's not the type of integrity that I think the people in Mississippi deserve."

    Banks said his campaign does not accept contributions from political action committees.

    "I'm out here to protect the people of Mississippi," Banks said. "We've accepted money from businesses, we've accepted money from attorneys, we've accepted money from retired friends, school teachers, and just regular people, but no one who would be a party to a case before the court."

    A spokesperson for Waller's campaign said the chief justice is fair and impartial in court.

    "Justice Waller appreciates everyone who is supporting the campaign," said Morgan Baldwin, campaign consultant. "He doesn't know who is contributing. The campaign is the one who is actually raising the money."

    Baldwin said Waller has a record of making sure the court is fair, independent, and provides access for everyone.

    "The fact of the matter is, they have to run for election, which means they have to raise money," Baldwin said. "Justice Waller does not know who is supporting his campaign but he appreciates everyone who is supporting his candidacy."

    Banks is a graduate of St. Joseph High School, Jackson State University, Mississippi College School of Law. He has been an attorney for 31 years and is also the representative for the Mississippi House of Representatives, District 67.

    He said campaigning for the Supreme Court is different from campaigning for the state house.

    "As a judicial candidate, I'm not allowed to say how I would vote on this issue or that issue," Banks said. "I want to be really fair and impartial. If it's right, I'm going to uphold it and if it's wrong, I'm going to say 'no.' I will vote to uphold our laws in Mississippi, even laws I voted against as a legislator."

    Waller,  of Jackson, has served on the Supreme Court since January 1998. He was a presiding justice for five years. He became Chief Justice in January 2009.

    Voters will cast their votes in the judicial election on Tuesday, Nov. 6 during the presidential and congressional elections.